‘Linking the Agrifood sector to the local markets for economic growth and improvement of nutrition and food security’

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The P.M. Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi 

Opening Address

Regional Forum 

 

Ministers of Cabinet

Members of the Diplomatic Corp

Representatives of the host organisations of the Conference

Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen:

 

It gives me great pleasure to provide the opening address for this regional forum with its focus on Linking the Agrifood sector to the local markets for  economic growth and improvement of nutrition and food security. Opportunities such as this forum gives us time to reflect on the lessons learnt from the business models we have been using and linking these to a pathway towards the achievement of sustainable economic growth and nutritional objectives of the region.

Access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food at all times has been recognized as a right for all people by the Pacific Health Ministers in endorsing the vision of ‘Healthy Islands’ as an overarching framework for health protection and promotion in the Pacific.

Pacific countries have traditionally enjoyed comparatively good food security, mainly because they have secured food in a variety of ways including subsistence farming, trading and selling products, fishing and hunting. Now, this historic food security is being eroded by urbanization and a growing reliance on cheap and often poor quality imported foods that have little nutritional value. 

Changes in both the supply and demand of food pose an increasing threat to food security, as reflected in the health of Pacific populations. Imported foods that are of poor nutritional quality,  are contributing to high rates of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. Consumption of fruits and vegetables is low and vitamin and mineral deficiencies widespread. We often experience food-borne illnesses which compromise the ability of Pacific food products to meet export standards. 

Economic shocks, such as recent increases in food and fuel prices, mean that household budgets have to stretch further to buy food, particularly in growing urban areas where access to land for gardening is limited. Land tenure systems and land use policies influence the availability of land for production. Transport costs to rural areas and outlying islands further increase the price of food and limit inter-Pacific trade in locally-grown food. These are all important issues to be considered in the food production value chains.

Environmental shocks also impact food security. With climate change, thereis projection of worsening tropical cyclones, rainfall variation destabilizes croplands, agricultural lands are damaged, coastal areas are inundated, fresh water is salinized, tuna stocks are shifting away from Pacific-exclusive economic zones and the incidence of diseases and health risks is increasing. Unless resilience is built within the food system, climate change will increase food insecurity and malnutrition.

Controlling the safety of imported food is also an enormous challenge for the Pacific. The increasing reliance on imported food, the decline in local food production, the failure to enact and enforce food safety regulations and standards and the shift in food preferences towards convenient, cheap but nutritionally inferior foods are all placing Pacific populations at greater risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), vitamin and mineral deficiencies, malnutrition and food-borne diseases. There are alsoimpacts on lifestyle-related behaviours including tobacco and alcohol consumption,thus compounding the risk of NCDs, malnutrition and poor health. 

Agriculture is a highly vulnerable sector to the impacts of climate change particularly on yields and the types of crops that can be grown. With the knowledge of the more acute risks to production,attention must be placed on the importance of farmers receiving the best available information and guidelines on the choice of crop varieties and soil and water management options under changed environmental conditions. Under climate change scenarios it is important to ensure that there is diversification of agricultural systems while creating a resilient ecosystem. We know that Organic agriculture applies such diversification practices.

The globalization of agro-food systems has often negatively impacted farming households. The persistence of agro-food systems that are not highly commoditized in an increasingly commoditized, global economy is of interest to those seeking alternatives to a global agro-food system dominated by corporate interests. Samoa and others offer examples of an alternative agro-food system, where agriculture and food networks are local to regional in scale and embedded in communities. Samoan village agriculture has shown great resilience in the face of market forces and a recent series of natural disastersand the taro leaf blight.

Food security will be determined primarily by access to food and stability of food supplies. International trade can serve as an adaptation measure to offset changing local food production capacities caused by climate change. While trade opportunities are clearly needed, these must be coupled with initiatives to promote and sustainably increase the productivity of subsistence systems in agricultural forestry and fishery sectors so as to diversify food sources and reduce reliance on imported food products.

Food is the gateway into all cultures.We are blessed with an ocean so abundant in marine life, and fertile soils capable of recovering from the worst of natural disasters that if we only take what we need, generations after us will also be fed from the same food baskets. Our farmers are organic by default and organic farming will be our future. Traditional diets were based on nourishing preparations, made largely from the best of the earth and ocean.

The emergence of tourism as the economic hope, brought with it misconceptions when trying to cater to tourists perceived tastes. As a result country specific cuisines slowly became replaced with inferior imported food. 

And so did the local economy as food is imported, representing a loss of opportunity for local farmers and producers. 

At the same time we are not able to organise ourselves  in ways to fully capture market access. 

With the recent conclusion of the Pacer Plus negotiations, there are new opportunities before us as well as challenges.

My government with the support of our development partners are collaborating to ensure that food security issues are adequately mainstreamed into national and regional climate change adaptation programs. 

We have taken urgent action to influence policies, environment, organizations and individuals contributing to food security. We are addressing land, transport, energy and information and communication technology systems that underpin action to achieve food security. 

A return to a subsistence way of life with the expectation of being able to feed the whole population is unrealistic. However, local production needs to remain the core of the food system and the capacity of farmers and fisherman to trade their produce locally, regionally and internationally needs to be supported and extended. 

Developing and investing in sustainable farming methods is necessary, as is improving the ability of farmers to withstand and adapt to environmental, economic changes and impacts of climate change. 

Similarly, well managed, health-enhancing international trade, of both exports and imports, is important in maintaining food security. 

I wish you success in your deliberations and now declare this regional forum open.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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